From Nose to Tail: Celebrating the unsung heroes

By Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM.

In this month’s article, I would like to focus on one of the most amazing species I have had the pleasure to work with: licensed veterinary nurses, commonly known as LVNs!

This rare, underappreciated and misunderstood breed of human is why I joined the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College. I love to help develop “Baby Vet Nurses” and reap the joy of watching them flourish.

The main difference between a licensed veterinary nurse and a non-licensed veterinary assistant is their level of education and training. Ideally, they have earned their degree(s) through an American Veterinary Medical Association-accredited college such as Johnson College. There are two-year associate’s degrees (such as we offer at Johnson College) and four-year bachelor’s degrees.

A veterinary nurse educational program is usually rigorous and requires a studious, conscientious, intelligent, hard-working and disciplined person with good interpersonal skills to complete.

Their coursework includes a plethora of math and science and covers a range of species, from tiny pocket pets to huge draft horses. Here is a sample of the classes taken: anatomy and physiology, chemistry, parasitology, immunology, microbiology, pharmacology, radiology and ultrasonography, as well as customer service courses.

Subsequently, they apply this book knowledge through clinical rotations (surgery and medicine), which provide supervised hands-on experiences while still students. Students must then complete a five-week internship in the field before earning their degree.

Upon completion of the academic program, they then sit for a National Boards Exam to earn their license. And it doesn’t stop there. Just like a veterinarian, LVNs are required to earn continuing education credits on a two- to three-year basis, depending on what state they are licensed in, to maintain their license.

Also, did you know that an LVN can become formally specialized? Currently, they can gain specialty credentials in one of sixteen focuses. Examples include emergency and critical care, dentistry, internal medicine, zoological medicine, behavior, dermatology and equine medicine.

A licensed vet nurse can do anything in a veterinary facility that is hands-on and technical, except for surgery, diagnosis and prescribing medications. Good bedside manner is also critical, considering that they are often among the first and last people a pet owner interacts with during a vet visit.

Here is a sampler list of things an LVN can do under the direction of a veterinarian:

  • Prepare for and lead an anesthesia event, including monitoring a patient before, during and after a surgical procedure.
  • Place intra-venous catheters, give injections by different routes and place endotracheal tubes and other gadgets.
  • Draw blood/urine samples to run various diagnostic tests and report results to the veterinarian.
  • Perform radiographs, ultrasound and sometimes even advanced imaging like CT scans and MRIs.
  • Perform professional dental cleanings.
  • Take measurements for the veterinarian — for example, eye pressures, dry eye tests, blood pressures, blood glucose readings, pulse oxygenation and electrocardiograms.
  • Take various skin samples to be cultured or evaluated with the team under a microscope. A good LVN can readily identify pathogens and parasites and report findings to the vet.
  • Administer certain booster vaccines and/or medications ordered by a vet. In complicated chronic diseases such as diabetes and Addison’s disease, LVNs are integral to your pet’s routine treatment and monitoring. Provide detailed take-home instructions when your pet is discharged from the clinic following a surgical procedure.
  • Performs thorough record-keeping of all kinds. May serve as a practice manager and/or staff supervisor.

Finally, how can a pet owner better utilize a veterinary office’s licensed nurses?

When bringing your pet to the vet, please don’t assume your LVN doesn’t have enough expertise to hear about your pet’s history or field your questions. Too many owners wait for the veterinarian to enter the room before telling the whole story, and honestly, this is a disservice to your pet and not a wise use of your veterinary team’s time.

Never underestimate the superpowers your licensed veterinary nurse has! They enjoy being utilized and challenged. They love patient care and bonding with owners. Seasoned LVNs are an absolute treasure trove of wisdom – I still learn from them on a regular basis!

Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Johnson College Animal Care Center as well as an instructor for the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing Program. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 12 years.

From Nose to Tail: Keeping pets safe in winter

By Jamie Laubenstein, AS, CVT, ’07

Originally published in the November 25, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

As autumn golds fade to winter blues, the temperatures outside begin to drop significantly. As responsible pet owners, it is important to know the laws, obligations and options we have during these winter months.

Libre’s Law, signed by Governor Tom Wolf in August 2017, includes a section regarding leashing your dog outside. Dogs cannot be tethered outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees and above 90 degrees. We must also be diligent in ensuring that any outside water sources do not freeze over.

What does this mean for those who want to enjoy outdoor activities in the snow with their pets? Well, there are several options available to us to help prevent hypothermia or frostbite in our furry friends.

Pet clothing and specially designed doggy boots can allow your canine companion to enjoy their time outside.

There are a variety of coats, sweaters, body suits and hats designed to fit any size dog to help them stay warm when outside. Dog boots help protect sensitive paw pads from frostbite or damage while walking in the snow or on a frozen sidewalk.

However, some dog breeds have been bred for and used for working outside during these chilling months dating back as far as 4,000 to 6,000 years.

Breeds such as the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute and Samoyed have been pulling sleds and helping hunters survive arctic conditions. Their thick double coats help them to thrive in wet and cold weather. Having thicker fur between their paw pads helps protect them from the cold and frost, allowing for better travel.

The Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog were all bred to withstand a cold climate, herd and guard livestock and assist soldiers in wartime. Not only are these dogs highly intelligent and easily trainable, but they also make excellent family companions.

Dogs are not the only ones that may need some help outside in the winter months. Many of us may have a few stray cats around the neighborhood that can use some extra TLC right about now.

If you can humanely trap them and get them to a local shelter or rescue before the temperatures drop significantly, this is the best option. However, some cats are too smart to trap but need our help all the same.

Shelter from the elements is a great first step to helping them survive the winter. A DIY shelter is cheap and easy to set up — all you need is a plastic container, insulation and bedding. Begin by cutting a small opening in one side of the container, line the container with foam insulation and then add a thick layer of straw for bedding. Make sure you place the enclosure somewhere quiet so that you see the cat frequently and where they will feel safe to use it.

Water is the second most important part of survival in the winter. Since streams, lakes or puddles are often frozen, providing a water source that they can easily access, and doesn’t freeze is essential.

Lastly, you can put out some dry cat food during the day for an easy meal but you will want to pick up the food at night to prevent raccoons or other wild animals from visiting during the night.

There are many options for us to enjoy the snow with our pets. Whether it’s making snowballs for them to chase or sledding down the hill, our pets can be part of these experiences. Be mindful of how long they have been outside, as often they will want to keep playing past the time it’s safe for them to be out.

Enjoy this season with your furry pal, and let it snow!

Jamie Laubenstein, AS, CVT, ’07 Johnson College alumni, is a full time CVT instructor at the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing Program as well as a clinical rotation instructor at the Animal Care Center on campus. She has been part of the veterinary field for 19 years.

From Nose to Tail: The Importance of a Healthy Skin & Coat

By Kimberly Konopka, ’07, BS, AS, CVT, ESM

Originally published in the September 23, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage

Did you know that the largest organ in cats and dogs is their skin and hair coat? It makes up close to 10 to 15% of their total body weight.

It is important for pet owners to help keep this organ in top shape because it is vital in performing many basic functions in keeping their pets healthy. These functions include:

Defense and Immunity — The skin and coat provide protection, acting as a shield to the internal organs from outside stressors such as chemicals, UV light or other environmental threats. The nerves within the skin also aid in sensing temperature variation, pain or pressure. Compromised skin health may lead to harmful bacteria causing diseases and infections.

Thermoregulation — Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands, so a healthy hair coat helps to maintain proper body temperatures and acts as an insulation layer. The movement of the hair follicles brings the hairs closer together to insulate against the cold, or the opposite allows air to move freely between the looser hairs to allow for a cooling effect.

Storage — The skin acts as a warehouse for storing several vital proteins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and collagen fibers. Many of these are necessary for cellular production and maintenance of those cells, along with various other functions.

So, how can you, a pet owner, contribute to skin and coat health?

The pet’s diet is the first influence on skin and coat health. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat,” and this also holds true for animals. Good quality pet food lays the foundation for proper pet health. These diets contain omega-3s, good sources of quality proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and provide the appropriate number of calories to meet the pet’s energy needs. To be sure you’re feeding your pet the right food, ask your veterinarian. Some pets do require additional supplements or have special dietary needs.

Proper grooming and bathing are also essential factors in maintaining healthy skin and coat. Some pets can’t or don’t groom themselves well and may need a little assistance keeping themselves less disheveled. Grooming your pet on a regular basis helps remove any dirt, debris, and dead skin cells.

As a pet owner, this is also an opportunity to closely examine your pet’s skin for abnormalities or parasites. The frequency of bathing will be dependent on the pet’s needs. Different hair coat types, such as heavy undercoats compared to the hairless varieties of dogs and cats, will have very different bathing schedules and shampoo requirements. Of course, the pet’s lifestyle will also influence bathing or grooming needs. Pets should only be bathed utilizing a shampoo formulated for the specific species. Pets are not small humans, and the pH of their skin varies significantly from ours. Human shampoos, including baby formula shampoo, should not be used on your pet as it is too harsh for their skin. If you are concerned about your pet’s hair coat, discuss the concern with your veterinarian, as there may be an underlying nutritional deficit or medical condition.

Ever wonder why your pet is so itchy?

There are many causes of itchy skin in pets, both external and internal. Unfortunately, it may be a very frustrating and time-consuming process to determine what is causing the condition.

External causes of acute or chronic itching include, but are not limited to, dry winter air or lack of humidity, environmental allergens such as grass or pollen from trees, or even an allergy to fleas or other biting insects.

Internal causes may include a food sensitivity/allergy or a systemic disease process.

Any of these concerns can cause skin problems such as hair loss, a greasy coat, excessive dandruff, rashes, odorous/dirty ears, or even open sores. Chronic itchy skin requires veterinary attention and generally serious detective work on the owner’s part. Keeping a journal of occurrences and possible triggers may help the veterinarian determine the cause. The veterinarian may arrive at a diagnosis and treatment quickly, but sometimes it may be very challenging and even require special care from a veterinary dermatologist. Occasionally, a food trial is necessary to eliminate a possible food allergy or sensitivity. Food trials require much effort and patience on the part of the pet owner, take a minimum of 90 days to complete and need a veterinary prescribed diet to be the only food source during this time.

Your pet’s skin and hair coat are a good indicator of their overall health. If the coat or skin becomes something other than smooth, shiny, and dandruff free, you may want to contact your veterinary care professional.

Kimberly Konopka, ’07, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, is the program director of the Veterinary Nursing program at Johnson College. She has been in the field of veterinary medicine for 15 years.

From Nose to Tail: The Benefits of Pet Ownership


Originally published in the August 26, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage –

If you take the time to read this monthly column, you must be an animal lover. Well, you are not alone! A National Pet Owners Survey performed by the American Pet Products Association for 2021-2022 estimated that approximately 70% of US households own at least one pet. The breakdown showed that about 69 million families own dogs, 45 million own cats, 3.5 million households have a horse and 10 million have pet birds.

Those of us who worked in the “trenches” of small animal general practices throughout the early course of the COVID-19 pandemic saw an absolute eruption of puppies and kittens being introduced to households.

Like the term Baby Boomer generation, we now have a generation of dogs and cats that will be known, at least by the veterinary community, as COVID puppies and kittens. Many cases we cared for were first-time pet owners who finally found themselves with enough time and desire to raise a pet while stuck at home. People found themselves greatly drawn to the comfort, engagement, and companionship pets provide.

Regardless of our exact circumstances, most of us were uneasy and anxious about the unknown during the first two years of the pandemic. What better stress relief was there than a warm, furry baby cuddling on your lap or jogging by your side?

Our first question is, “What is the human-animal bond?”

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines the human-animal bond as a “mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and wellbeing of both.”

A national survey conducted in 2021 by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute showed us that the COVID pandemic has led to a significant increase in the daily hours that owners spend with their pets. Sixty-four percent of these respondents stated that they are now more likely to devote more time to their pets after the pandemic.

While a majority of pet owners reported that their health improved due to owning a pet, 87% of respondents acknowledged that their mental health improved the most. Many of these pet owners have even reported discussing the benefits of their human-animal bond with their doctors and/or therapists. This survey also found that human practitioners are increasingly recommending pet ownership to their patients!

“What are some of the proven health benefits of owning a pet?” is our second question.

Research studies and surveys reveal a plethora of physical and emotional health benefits that pets provide to us.

According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, these include, but are not limited to:

• Reduction of stress.

• Reduction in feelings of depression and/or anxiety.

• Grief support.

• Improvement in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder severity.

• Support of healthier aging (including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia situations).

• Improvements in autism spectrum disorder.

• Improved cardiovascular health parameters due to increased exercise.

• Improvement in childhood allergy, eczema, and asthma parameters.

The proposed scientific basis behind the magic of the Human-Animal Bond has much to do with its effect on our physiologic responses, such as influencing our hormone levels of oxytocin, cortisol, and epinephrine. Studies have also correlated prenatal and adolescent exposure to pets with a more robust adult immune system. We have also found dogs to have incredible senses that can detect pre-seizure situations and low blood sugar, among other ailments.

Our last question is, “are there ever any negative impacts of owning a pet?”

Surely not 100% of pet ownership is positive at all times. Responsible pet ownership comes with emotional, financial, and sometimes even physical impacts. Pets can develop diseases, suffer from mental health disorders such as aggression and/or anxiety, and also zoonotic diseases, which are a subset of diseases we could contract from pets. Some examples include rabies, ringworm, roundworms, and leptospirosis.

The CDC is an excellent resource for learning more about zoonotic diseases. You can protect yourself and your pet from many of these conditions by being educated and proactive with their wellness care.

So, no matter what type of pet or pets you have, love and care for them as much as they love and care for you. You both will be better for it.

Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Johnson College Animal Care Center as well as an instructor for the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing Program. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 12 years.

Nose to Tail: Keeping pets safe in water


Originally published in the July 22, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

Summer is upon us, and one of the great benefits of living in NEPA is being outdoors and enjoying all the natural beauty our area offers.

Not only do we love to spend time in nature, but so do our furry counterparts! Although nature has countless benefits, there can be danger lingering in our water sources. This life-threatening concern for our beloved pets is known as Cyanobacteria (previously known as blue-green algae), also referred to as HABs or harmful algal blooms. As a concerned pet parent, you need to know how to deal with this problem, so let’s get to the details!

Our first question is, “What is Cyanobacteria?”

Although referred to as algae, Cyanobacteria or HABs, are a type of microscopic bacteria that occur throughout the country. There are multiple species of Cyanobacteria, and these organisms can resemble algae when clumped together in bodies of water. It is important to note that some species have the potential to become HABs that produce toxins, while others do not, and concentrations vary throughout the year and therefore may not always be harmful.

The algae that become toxic undergoes a period of rapid growth in calm/still bodies of water when an abundance of nutrients is available during the warmer months when water temperatures are high. More than 30 species of Cyanobacteria can produce four types of toxins that can damage the nervous system, skin, kidneys or liver. Unfortunately, results are most commonly fatal.

“How do I know where it is safe for my pet,?” is our second question.

These toxic algae blooms can be found in many places, including fresh water, salt water, backyard pools and ponds, if not cleaned regularly. Observing the following signs is helpful when looking for a safe place to cool down with your pet, but lab analysis is needed to confirm HABs in a suspected body of water. Due to the severity of HABs to your pet’s health, it is better to avoid the area altogether.

That being said, some toxic algae blooms can be blue-green, some red and brown and others can resemble paint floating on top of the water.

Another way to help identify this toxin is a slimy or foamy “scum” or mat appearance on the surface of the water or shoreline. Also, keep in mind that some (not all) toxic algae may produce a foul odor. Dead fish or other dead wildlife in a body of water can also be a warning sign. Other helpful advice is to keep an eye out for HABs watch, advisory or warning signage from official agencies.

Our third question is, “What do I do if I suspect my pet ingested or came in contact with HABs?”

First, if applicable, thoroughly rinse your pet off in fresh water, but also be sure to wear gloves to protect yourself! Next, seek veterinary help immediately. Symptoms can arise anywhere from 15 minutes to several days post-exposure. Some symptoms may include staggering, drooling, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, difficulty breathing or seizures. It is crucial that you seek professional veterinary care! Afterward, it is recommended to report the suspected bloom to your state’s health department to aid other animals and their owners avoid this frightening event.

Multiple resources are available if you want to learn more about Cyanobacteria and how to keep you and your pets safe while having fun in the water this summer. We suggest reviewing the HABs page on Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection website, The Pennsylvania HABs Task Force, which includes representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. You can also contact your veterinary offices, which can supply valuable information.

Have fun this summer, be safe and always look before you — or your pets — leap into the water.

Amanda Melnyk, ’09, AS, CVT, ’is a full-time CVT instructor at Johnson College’s veterinary nursing program as well as a clinical rotation instructor at Johnson College’s Animal Care Center on campus. She has been a part of the veterinary field for 14 years.

From Nose to Tail: Summertime with Our Pets

By Jamie Laubenstein ‘07, CVT

Originally published in the June 24, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

In  the warmer summer months, we find ourselves spending more time outside. Whether we are hosting a summer barbecue, hiking or cooling off in the water, many of us include our furry friends in all our activities.

Enjoying summer celebrations can be made even better by taking extra precautions to ensure our canine and feline companions are having as much fun as we are.

Our first question this month is, “Can my pet eat the food we prepare during our backyard barbecue?”

Gathering around the grill for some delicious barbecue is an excellent idea for us but not for our four-legged companions. While barbecue sauce elevates our culinary experience, it often contains onions and garlic, which can be toxic to dogs. Sharing even a tiny amount of food or scraps can be enough to cause diarrhea or vomiting in most dogs.

We should also avoid giving our pets corn on the cob and ribs. Bones should not be given to our furry friends because they can potentially cause gastrointestinal blockage.

However, some foods — if prepared without oils and are deboned— like chicken, turkey, salmon, and some vegetables, including sweet potatoes can be shared, in moderation, with our pets.

“I’ve taken my dog on hikes with me, but can I take my cat?” is our second question.

Getting outside to explore the trails or cooling off at a lake is often enjoyed by our canines and, yes, our feline companions, too. Did you know that you can train your cat to hike with you on a harness, just like dogs?

Often, this is made easier if you start training when your cat is very young and use a combination of leash walking with an open window carrier. Exploring the environment is excellent physical and mental stimulation for our pets.

Keeping cats and dogs on a harness and leash helps protect them from being injured by wildlife (porcupine quills) and prevents them from harming small native animals, including chipmunks and birds.

Hydration is just as crucial for our hiking companions, too. Bring extra water and a collapsible bowl on every trip.

Remember to keep your pets on appropriate flea, tick and heartworm preventatives to avoid unwanted parasite infestations.

Our third question is, “How do I know when my pets are stressed when fireworks are going off in our neighborhood, and what can I do to calm them down?”

Our pets can tell us how much stress they feel simply by us watching their behavior during these activities. Stressed-out animals exhibit behaviors such as hiding, pacing, being excessively clingy, vocalization, and having accidents (urinating/defecating) in unusual areas of the house. These behaviors can occur at any time in your pet’s life, and it is not uncommon for pets to become less tolerant of outside activities as they age.

Not to worry, there are things you can try at home to help manage and decrease that stress and anxiety. It’s important to understand that the loud and sudden boom of the firework, like thunder, often causes the most stress to our pets.

The best practice is to be proactive around the holidays and have a plan in place before the noise gets your pet upset. Having a room in your house prepared for your pet before the loud noises start is vital. The room should be quiet and dimly lit.

You can also try playing calming music to soothe your pet and help take their focus off the sound of the fireworks. Distraction aides like Kong puzzle toys filled with a tasty treat and/or thunder shirts, designed to release endorphins, may also help your pet.

Contacting your veterinarian about different medication protocols for such events is also an excellent idea. Your vet can help you combine several of these suggestions to manage your pet’s anxiety appropriately.

Summertime with our pets can be extremely rewarding, filled with moments that make wonderful memories. By being proactive and creative, we can share all the parts of the summer, including barbecues, exploring and outdoor festivities with our cherished companions in a way that is rewarding to them, too.

Jamie Laubenstein, AS, CVT, ’07 Johnson College alum, is a full time CVT Instructor at the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing program as well as a clinical rotation instructor at the Animal Care Center on campus. She has been part of the veterinary field for 19 years.

Nose to Tail: Keeping Pets Cool

By Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT

Originally published in the May 27, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

It’s a beautiful summer day and you are thinking: Do I go for a car ride, take a walk, or even stroll on the beach? As a responsible pet owner, there are some things to consider before you choose.

Leaving your pet in a hot car may lead to deadly heat stroke, and, in several states, it may be illegal. A quick stop with the windows cracked open can become deadly quicker than one may think.

According to, as of 2019, 31 states and the District of Columbia have some form of law against leaving animals unattended in a hot car. These laws vary from state to state, involving legal action against the car owner, while other states have laws to protect a person who may use forcible means to rescue a vulnerable animal. It’s recommended that you review your state laws on this topic.

How hot is too hot for my pet? Temperatures in vehicles can rise very quickly. A lovely 70 degrees outside the car changes to 89 degrees within 10 minutes inside the car, and within 30 minutes, may reach 104 degrees. As the temperature increases by 5-degree increments, the vehicle’s inside rises exponentially.

What does heatstroke look like in a pet? The clinical signs of a pet overheating include excessive panting, increased heart, and respiratory rates, difficulty breathing, mild weakness to stupor, and collapse. If your pet’s internal body temperature approaches 104 degrees, the clinical signs might include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.

Dogs and cats both have sweat glands in their feet but utilize a second method for cooling down as they do not sweat like humans. Dogs pant to cool themselves down, while cats lick their hair coat. However, brachycephalic breeds — those with a flat snout like boxers, pugs and Persian cats, for example — are more susceptible to heatstroke because they can’t pant as effectively as other breeds.

When it comes to taking a walk down the road, or on the beach, not only is heatstroke a concern but there is another danger to watch out for: burned paw pads. Asphalt, pavement, artificial grass, sand and even dirt can become so hot that it may cause blistering and burning of an animal’s paw pads. Puppies and kittens are at a higher risk of damage because their paw pads are still very sensitive.

When outside temperatures reach 85+ degrees and remain constant throughout the day, even a short stroll may cause serious injury. According to the American Medical Association, if the air temperature is 86 degrees, the asphalt temperature is 135 degrees. The general rule of thumb for determining if the surface is too hot for your pet is to either place your palm or barefoot on the surface for 5 seconds. If it’s too hot for you to handle, it’s too hot for your pet.

How do you recognize injury to the paw pads? If your pet limps, is reluctant to walk or stand, licks or chews their feet, or if the pads are darker in color than usual, you will want to examine further. There may be visible signs of a burn, such as blisters. Bring the pet to a cool location and flush the feet with cold water or cold compress. Try to keep them from licking and seek veterinary care as burns will need to be addressed to help prevent further damage or infection.

There are a few things you may try to help reduce the chance of paw pad burns and injury:

Paw wax: This is a wax created explicitly for pets and designed to help protect the pads from hot surfaces in the warmer months and potentially harmful chemicals such as rock salt and anti-skid when it’s colder.

Dog shoes/boots: If your dog will wear them, this is one of the best ways an owner can protect their pet’s feet from injury. These may come in a variety of styles and materials, but you will want to make sure that the bottom of the boot has a rubber sole. Please understand that not all pets will tolerate wearing them or be comfortable walking in them. Be sure to work with your pet well in advance of the day you want them to wear them for protection.

During the hot months, it’s a good practice to check your pet’s paw pads regularly. This will train your eye to what is “normal” for your pet and allow you to apply a pet-safe moisturizer to keep pads soft and healthy and help to prevent injuries.

This information should help you keep your pets safe this summer season.

Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, is the program director of the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College. She has been in the field of veterinary medicine for 15 years.

Nose to Tail: Protecting pets from fleas and ticks

By Meg Varner-Soden, DVM

Originally published in the April 29, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

As the days become warmer and rain replaces snow, my mind switches gears away from skis and shovels to gardening and hiking.

There’s nothing I love more than to be outside all day with my family and our dog. However, especially now that I am both a pet and human parent, I dread the unavoidable surge in encounters with parasites — especially fleas and ticks. Today, I will try to answer a few of the more common questions many pet owners have about these external parasites.

Our first question is, “Why are veterinary teams so concerned with year-round prevention of fleas and ticks on my pets?”

Actually, human health care providers are as concerned as your veterinary team because, while flea and tick infestations are an unsightly nuisance, they also present a real risk of vector-borne diseases, which are diseases spread by biting insects, for both our pets and ourselves.

Ticks become active as soon as that thermometer reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Folks, we have had warm spells as early as February for the last few years, so it’s never too early to keep alert for ticks.

There are several common species of ticks in our region, ever-increasing in prevalence due to wildlife movement and a warmer climate. They may carry Lyme disease (Borreliosis), Anaplasma, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia and Babesia. These diseases may be tricky to diagnose quickly and have the potential to become a chronic problem, which is both an emotional and financial burden to carry.

Did you know that sometimes a single tick may carry and transmit more than one of those diseases at a time and one type of tick, called the Brown Dog Tick, prefers to live and hide indoors?

Fleas can cause anemia, flea bite dermatitis (a robust allergic skin reaction to the flea saliva), and are vectors for tapeworms, Cat Scratch disease, Hemoplasmas and even plague. Flea numbers can explosively escalate in a short time. A flea infestation, once noticed, is incredibly frustrating to eradicate because it takes significant time and diligence to clear all of its life stages. In health care providers’ opinions, proactively preventing an infestation is much more prudent than reacting to them after the fact.

“How can I prevent fleas and ticks from infesting my pets and home?” is our second question this month.

Many products are available — for both cats and dogs — that can simultaneously combat fleas and ticks for lengthy periods of time. There are both prescription and over-the-counter options, and they come in a variety of formulations ranging from collars to oral tablets to topical formulations. Consult with your veterinarian about which products are the best choices for your pets, lifestyle and budget.

Also, nothing beats a good flea combing routine, running your hands over your pets daily and routine bathing. My children anticipate that they are going to bathe every evening and we are going to check everyone, including the dog, for ticks.

When it comes to protecting the inside of your home, minimize the clutter that parasites can hide in, mitigate the presence of mice and vacuum and launder regularly — including the pets’ bedding. Promptly change out of your yardwork/hiking/hunting clothes and put them in an isolated area (or even run them through the laundry), and jump through the shower before you start relaxing inside. Be mindful of the humidity and heat in the house — fleas thrive in higher humidity and temperatures. Fleas are also more likely to thrive in homes full of carpet and fabric-upholstered furniture, anything that mimics a furry creature.

Outdoors, you can decrease the density of fleas and ticks by closely manicuring your grass, choosing plants that don’t attract deer, avoiding the lingering presence of leaf litter and brush piles and limiting ground cover and woodpiles close to the home.

Also, be mindful of the number of furry animals you own — the more pets, the more feeding stations available to fleas and ticks.

Ultimately, like with anything, knowledge is power. One excellent educational resource I recommend for all pet owners is, the Companion Animal Parasite Council website. And if you find your pets becoming prey to fleas and ticks, consult with your trusted veterinary team.

Dr. Meg Varner-Soden, DVM, is the veterinarian at the Johnson College Animal Care Center and an instructor for Johnson College’s two-year veterinary nursing associate degree program. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 12 years.

Nose to Tail: Clean Teeth, Healthy Pets

By Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, Program Director of the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College

Originally published in the February 25, 2022 edition of the Valley Advantage.

We brush our teeth, floss, and gargle mouthwash every day to keep our teeth and mouth healthy. What about your pets’ dental care? Is it as essential to their overall health as it is ours? Those are the types of questions we recently received and will try to answer.

“My veterinarian said that my pet needs a dental exam. Is this true?”

The simple answer is YES! Our pets’ mouths are very similar to our own and need attention as well. Food particles and bacteria cause a film to form known as plaque, which then hardens to form tartar.

This is that hard yellow- to brown-colored build-up you may notice on teeth, especially the back molars. Not only is it unsightly, but without proper attention, it may lead to other health concerns.

The bacteria can also invade the gums, causing pain and inflammation known as gingivitis, leading to periodontal disease and tooth loss. There is evidence that dental disease is associated with cardiopulmonary diseases such as endocarditis, inflammation of the liver and kidney disease. This stems from the bacteria entering the bloodstream and traveling to these vital organs. A procedure called dental prophylaxis,

done by a veterinary professional, assists in helping to keep all these issues at bay.

“My pet is only 5 years old. Can I wait until he/she is older to talk to my Vet about dental health?”

Don’t wait! Issues can start in a very young pet, and it’s not uncommon for them to arise at the age of 4-5 years. How do you know if your pet needs a dental exam? During their annual wellness exam, the veterinarian may notice an issue on the visual exam and recommend scheduling the procedure.

There are also signs that your pet may show before the vet visit, which may include:

Pain: Gingivitis and dental disease cause inflammation which is painful. Unfortunately, your pets cannot verbally express that they’re in pain, and often low levels of pain go unnoticed, or your pet becomes accustomed to it over time. If the pain becomes significant enough, your pet may stop eating. You may also notice a difference or reduction in your pet’s level of play or interaction. If the mouth hurts, it makes sense that they may not want to play fetch or tug.

Halitosis, or bad breath: As dental disease progresses, you may notice halitosis. It may become so overpowering that it can be detected from several feet away!

Loss of teeth: When the bacteria invade below the gum line, it can eat away at the support structure of the tooth. This abscess may form along the root of the tooth as well. When the support structures become weak enough, the tooth will become loose and potentially fall out.

“What should I expect to occur for a dental prophylactic procedure?”

It’s far more detailed than one may think. Unfortunately, your pet is unlike a human in this respect and not willing to sit back and open wide. There are several steps involved in the process.

Pre-anesthetic blood work: Your pet will need to go under general anesthesia to have a proper dental cleaning and evaluation of the oral cavity.

Pre-dental radiographs: Like their human counterpart, your pet will have dental radiographs to fully evaluate above and below the gum line giving the veterinarian a better image of the teeth, support structures and overall health of the mouth.

Ultrasonic scaling: This is performed utilizing the same equipment your dentist uses and helps remove the plaque and tartar on the tooth surface above the gum line.

Subgingival hand scaling: Plaque and tarter that lies below the gum line is removed utilizing special hand scaling instruments, the same procedure as you would receive at the dentist.

Extractions, if necessary: This procedure can be as simple as touching a loose tooth, so it pops out, or advanced enough that it requires drills, cutting wheels, flaps and sutures. Some of those teeth have three roots.

Polishing: Veterinary polishing paste is bubblegum flavored, too. A sleeping pet doesn’t care if it’s not beef-flavored. This step serves a purpose other than making the teeth look good. The polish is slightly abrasive, making the tooth have a very smooth surface removing microscopic divots where the bacteria can cling onto, which starts the entire process over again.

Recovery: Once complete, your pet will be moved to a recovery location and closely monitored until discharge. Your veterinary staff will inform you of post-anesthesia/post dental care.

At-home dental care is easy to do and doesn’t require much time or many products. All you need to get started are pet toothpaste, which is necessary because human toothpaste is toxic to pets, and a pet toothbrush. You’re ready to go!